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An open and far from shut case

With Sehwag and Jaffer struggling, opening remains a key area of concern for India, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Dec 24, 2006 01:48 IST

While there is an obvious question over the extent of Munaf Patel’s injury, one that was not answered by his tentative performance on the field on Saturday, the main issue for India before the second Test at Kingsmead beginning on Boxing Day is over (yet again!) the opening conundrum.

“You need openers (to fire) to win a Test,” chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar said here on Saturday. “You are probably looking to score 300 runs in the first innings and the openers would be important for that.”

Wasim Jaffer’s tentative performance with the bat and eventual dismissal for 1 after a painful (to watch) 19 balls on Friday would not have helped his cause.

In eight outings on tour here (the tour game at Benoni, two ODIs, tour game at Potch and the two innings at the Wanderers Test), he has made a total of 30 runs, with a score of 10 being his highest. Still, it could be argued that the one-dayers are a different ball game and he has had only one actual longer version failure — at Wanderers, if you don’t count the four-day game at Potch. This is probably what could save his place in the playing XI.

“He has failed in one Test but we will have to sit and work it out,” remarked Vengsarkar, while Greg Chappell said that good players who were proven performers, were not “thrown away lightly”.

“Cricket history is littered with players who’ve come out of slumps and made big scores. It was only two or three Test matches ago that Wasim got a double ton for us. You’ve got to be very careful in writing people off.

Again, it’s an adjustment to come back into the group, let alone play. Jaffer played an ODI or two, Wanderers was his first game back as far as Tests were concerned from July in the West Indies. Best not be too hasty.”

But despite what Vengsarkar and Chappell said, the team management is apparently seriously thinking about bringing in Gautam Gambhir. Not just because Jaffer is getting out early, it is also because how he’s playing — unfortunately, he is looking extremely low on confidence and completely out of sorts. And more importantly, from a tactical point of view, southpaw Gambhir gives them that right-left option.

The weakness of the South African attack is probably their lack of variety — all right-armers bowling at nearly the same pace — and it would help to break their rhythm.

Gambhir also probably helped his own cause with a composed 79 against the KwaZulu Natal Invitation XI before being called back. Even though the attack wasn’t anything much, he stood there while Jaffer didn’t, and while he stood, he gave glimpses of a tighter technique and having made changes in his generally flamboyant approach to the game.

Vengsarkar, asked if Gambhir could get a look in, said he could not comment on the playing XI right now, but added, “This game (against the KZN XI) is important and we will take note of performances here.”

Meanwhile, Chappell, asked whether India could have a change at the top with a makeshift opener, said it was unlikely. “I think in Test cricket, specialists are more likely to do the job for you. There will be the odd time where you can maybe use an experiment, for want of a better word, but as a basic belief, I think specialists would best work out.”

Asked if Dravid could move up, he said that while it was an option again, they “hadn’t got to that stage”. “I think if we make a change, we would more likely go with someone who is there as a specialist (Gambhir).”

And while we’re on the topic, in all the fuss over Jaffer’s sudden fall from grace, the continued failure of Sehwag might be glossed over. It might be argued here too that Sehwag does as Sehwag does and you just go with the flow. But there’s always a line and that’s within touching distance now.

“We’ve been through this situation before and most teams have gone through it,” Chappell had said after the first Test, admitting that there were concerns about the team and individuals within that team. “Viru wasn’t in great shape before we got to St Lucia, he did fine there. The extra bounce here might suit him.”

Perhaps it will. But if he doesn’t fire there too, he and India would be in a right royal soup.

First Published: Dec 24, 2006 01:14 IST